Lucy Jones for BuzzFeed News
I haven't had a great year, to be honest. To be honest, my past years have not been great due to my own inherent pessimism and I really believed that 2018 would kill me. But I was wrong. 2019 was the year I almost made it: I moved to another country, tried to navigate through an incredibly hostile city, survived the first year of marriage, and almost got there thanks to a litany of increasingly rare and peculiar antibiotics total value of the country bought up diseases. When I recently complained to my doctor about toe stiffness, he suggested that it could be gout as if I was a rich baby who lived in the 19th century. (Don't worry, it's just the debilitating arthritis that I inherited from my mother.)
Perhaps I could have navigated better in 2019 if I hadn't felt my family was under pressure at the same time Confusion of geopolitical conflict. I talk to my parents a lot – every day, which also shocked other brown people. But in my defense, what if one of them dies and follows me and says, "Oh, and what you did is too busy to take a call from your mother?" called less and less. I just couldn't do it. My mother is smart and my father is funny and I like to end my worst days by complaining to them and calming them down and letting me rebuild. But lately I've just felt alone.
This is confusing and a bit niche, but bear it with me because you need it to understand why I blocked or muted about half my family On WhatsApp: In August, the Indian government lifted Article 370, which had previously granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status in India while maintaining its autonomy. Kashmir, located between Pakistan and India, is a fiercely competitive region over which both India and Pakistan have fought over decades of conflict. In the late 80s and early 90s, Kashmiri Hindus were driven out of the country after being attacked by Muslim insurgents. At least that's the story my family told me along with other Hindu Indians, but according to some separatist leaders, the Indian state constructed the exodus to encourage and intervene in further conflicts. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus left the valley, leaving only a few thousand. My family regards their forced relocation as an ethnic cleansing. Kashmiri Hindus have been living in refugee camps for decades. The conflict in Kashmir is long and complicated, but this New York story is a solid foundation for the recent tensions in the region.
Since the revocation, cashmere has been put under curfew. There are internet and cell phone failures. Journalists trying to report on the region are turned away, and Muslim residents live in fear. None of this is necessarily new, just better reported, and it is certainly not a unique behavior by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist government. Modi's record as an Indian politician was broken by his anti-Muslim rhetoric during the Gujarat riots in 2002. India is a good example of how every country can get caught in the deep, dark trap of religious nationalism.
My two parents were born and raised in Kashmir as Hindus in the majority Muslim state. My mother raves about Srinagar, her hometown and the largest city in Kashmir. A city tourism poster hangs in my brother's house, and my half-white niece ignores it every day, proof of the privilege my parents wanted when they moved to Canada. As a child, my mother always told me stories about how my grandparents escaped in the early 90s. As my father tells me, they were afraid of being ethnically cleaned as Hindus in the region. I accepted these stories and, I still believe, believed that they were afraid to be sincere. Why shouldn't I? Immigrant children often have little time to cling to – my brother, who was the last of our nuclear family to be born in India, has a birth certificate that contains only a handwritten note that says “Boy, Koul”. There's no reason for it. I suspect your parents have prejudices that you can't understand at 6 or 7. Aside from these little stories, I dutifully ignored cashmere. It was complicated and I was just trying to fit in with white people. For my child's brain, the solution was not to try to understand the peculiarity of a conflict between two brown countries that I was initially not really convinced of.
The Indian The government's logic behind the revocation was to create a space for Hindus to return to the region decades after they had been exterminated or killed. But what the government did – impose curfews, block Internet access, create a police state – has cut Kashmir from the rest of the world. Kashmiri Muslims are attacked by a government that wants to control India's only majority Muslim state.
It was heartbreaking as a human being to watch. As a Kashmiri, it gets fucked with my self-confidence.
Kashmiri demonstrators save themselves from tear gas during a protest against Indian rule and the abolition of Kashmir's special status in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, on August 30.
I don't talk much about cashmere because I don't feel I have a right to it. I was born in Canada and nothing really reveals my special inheritance as my surname. Only other Kashmiris can find out where I come from, and they do it with joy, which for some reason does indeed tickle me. Kashmiris are found all over the world and we hold on to the peculiarity of our heritage. Your mother screams at you all the time? Me too!!!! Kashmiris eat a ton of meat, we have perfected Rogan Josh, we love Nadru and Tsiri Tsot and Sheer Chai (this last one is really one of our worst culinary contributions to the world and we should be ashamed of it). We grew up with cashmere ghazals who didn't understand our other brown friends because our language was special, no real script, and some of the most specific insults people know. Who knew there were so many ways to tell someone you were going to fuck his sister? My mother was proud of me when I graduated from high school, but she was really proud of me when I got two shell piercings in my mid-twenties.
I wouldn't say that 2019 is the worst that Kashmir has been through – 1990 and 2001 and 2016 were pretty bad too. But this year, the lifting of Article 370 has resulted in more visible coverage of cashmere than I have really seen in recent times. It is a region in the world that is rarely reported, and the research results from this region are often written by and for Kashmiri Hindus. The Hindu narrative is the predominant one in most Indian media today, supported by the current Indian government, which is deeply nationalist and downright anti-Muslim.
The coming together of my age, my youngest immigrant status (but how from Canada, you know, come on, Scaachi), and my growing existential fear forced me to read more and be more careful and ultimately to get angry , Perhaps the only thing that has really changed is that in my late twenties I'm not really able to say anything. The privilege of passivity no longer belongs to me. I am by far the youngest in my family and have been treated as such for most of my life, but you can't get around acting like you are 12 just because your father still can't believe you are competent are enough to pay your own rent. (That means please send money. Beti needs a new coat here.)
There's no reason to suspect that your parents have prejudices that you can't understand at 6 or 7.
But also, my God, doesn't it feel like every book, TV show, film, and article has been written about Kashmir this year? I logically know that's not true, but when I rummaged through the selections in a bookstore in Miami's airport last week and found a book about cashmere hidden between romance novels and thrillers, I felt a legacy that I was following am ignored for most of my life. Information and art about cashmere peaked in my own brain and apparently in the world around me.
It's easy to tell at a young age that you can handle the hard things. When you grow up: I'll learn how taxes work when I'm bigger. Or: The electoral college will make more sense to me after college. These excuses work well when you're a kid, but time flies faster than you, and one day you're 28 and sun-drenched at Miami International Airport, trying not to cry because you don't understand who you are or where you come from or what you should believe. You know you should buy the book about cashmere, but it feels like an anvil in your hands, as if it could crush your own heart. Instead, you get a bottle opener in the shape of a woman, whose plunger is connected by springs. It works so that you can ignore the fact that your mother's mother tongue is dying and that you and your whole family are fighting over the future of your small community.
My family is Hindu – that is, Hindu, z In their stories about Kashmir, the existence of Muslims was not taken into account for years. Like many Hindus, we were taught to be friendly to Muslims, but not too friendly. We couldn't marry her or maintain real intimacy. Friendship was fine, but we were warned not to get too close. I didn't question that with my family. I just ignored their advice, made an appointment with who I wanted, made close friends with whoever I wanted, and did my best.
My best was not very good. This is rarely the case. This year when I saw my cousins delivering ceremonial meals and messages of joy after the revocation, I felt as if they were living in an alternative reality. It was hard for me to understand that my own family, which is otherwise fairly liberal and thoughtful, could endure such heartlessness towards Muslims in Kashmir. The apparent focus of my family and other Hindus in general was that the goals would justify the means. By further destroying the region, building a larger Indian military presence in the region, and refusing to protect Muslims as a minority throughout the region, we could somehow return home. During my lifetime, I was concerned with a pastime that I thought was white: to argue with my family on Facebook about their terrible policies.
Nurphoto / Getty Images
Kashmiri women shout slogans for freedom after the Friday prayer in Srinagar in September.
A certain cousin and I went back and forth on his side for a day and then on my side. One of his friends watched our exchange and called me "a bastard" in Hindi (finally my weekly lessons come in handy). My smart, educated, thoughtful family described the New York Times reporting on Kashmir as "bad news" and the "biased media" that refused to listen to the "Kashmiri Pandit site" for fun; Instead, I was bombarded with a whole bunch of people trying to figure out how to find out "the real story." On Facebook, my conversation with my cousin faded: "It is pretty arrogant to speak as if you have mastered the constitution of India and can make a judgment," he said to me. "Your arguments are passionate but hollow for me because you haven't lived life in this part of the world." My cousin grew up in Rajasthan, a hot, dry state in the West Indies, hundreds of kilometers from Kashmir's cold mountains. Its context is uniquely Indian and Hindu and exclusive. Mine is global and fearful and lonely.
We haven't talked since. I have not tried. I'm too tired.
My husband, who is white enough to get angry that turmeric stains our kitchen countertops instead of calmly accepting that everything in our house is now yellow, found it very funny at first. "You see, now you're going to have an awkward Thanksgiving dinner too!" He compared it to white people who went home to their relatives to argue about their Trump voting methods. I think that fits, but somehow mine feels much worse: my family has a real trauma in their history, real fear and real marginalization. It makes their telling difficult. I come where they come from. I just think they are wrong.
What makes my conflict with my family about Kashmir different from, for example, a white man who asks his relatives not to vote for Trump, is that my family is suffering from a generation trauma. Many whites have no history of ethnic cleansing, a family line disrupted by government, war, and death. When my mother talks about her parents escaping from cashmere in the middle of the night, I believe her because I can see the light in her eyes dim. I wish I could fix it for them like I could make the world less cruel. This does not mean that we should consider it acceptable that another family – any family that only differs from us in religion – will suffer the same fate decades later.
It was hard for me to understand that my own family, which is otherwise fairly liberal and thoughtful, could endure such heartlessness towards Muslims in Kashmir.
I have no interest in arguing over who, in my opinion, is responsible for Kashmir's devastating life. Nor am I interested in hearing arguments that Muslims must be "punished" for any hand some of them had in destabilizing the area. But for my family there is real fear. They remember losing their home. My mother was already in Canada when her parents were driven out.
This is cold consolation when it comes to my own community committing the same offenses against others. The cruelty that Kashmiri Pandits experienced does not diminish our calluses towards displaced Muslims. If our home was taken from us, why would we force it on someone else? None of our real or interpreted trauma is a valid reason for generations of lies and propaganda to be spread about Muslim people. There is no justification for Hindus to react calmly to the submission of another religious group. It is not a mistake that the Modi government has made Muslims the target of its campaign: it is a great, quick way to whip up Hindus.
It is a deceptively simple thought that I keep coming back to: When this happens to us, we call it ethnic cleansing. When it happens to Muslims, we call it fair. In one context, Kashmiri Pandits are victims of retribution. In another class, we are a privileged class: fair-skinned, high-ranking, with a religion that is not constantly monitored by white and brown people. (Or at least not the way Muslims are interrogated worldwide.)
It is a conflict that is not unlike that which progressive American Jews now have about Palestine. Although the peculiarities of these conflicts are essentially different, there is one thing in common. There must be a way to maintain and understand the historical context of your own people's suffering, while at the same time refusing to share this legacy with other disenfranchised groups. There must be a way to claim responsibility for your family's grief and displacement without ousting others. Right? I tell myself that every few days and sometimes it sounds so naive and gullible that I can no longer trust myself.
I don't know how to talk to Kashmir with my family, which makes it difficult for me to know how to speak publicly about it. Part of my blood told me that I have no right to comment because I have never been to Kashmir and I have not really been Kashmiri since I was whitewashed by the West. But it just feels like a mute to me. If Hindus who live comfortably around the world and are not worried about being oppressed by other brown people do not speak publicly about the harm their own community is doing, who will?
Over the course of the year I have tried to write about cashmere six or seven times, both for my daily work and for myself. I interviewed other Kashmiris for my upcoming book to try to make sense of it. At our company holiday party a few weeks ago, I cornered the only Indian immigrant I know in the newsroom and forced her to talk about cashmere, which mainly meant I was screaming in her ear about pit bull songs. (I'm sorry, Tasneem, I was excited.) All my attempts failed, mostly because it's not like I'm telling my story, and yet it's the only thing I want to talk about. The subject makes me stupid and illiterate and illiterate. My father, whom I love terribly, finds my worry about it very funny. He was always liberal, believed in the same things as me, with compassion, and was always aware of how racism and religious prejudice influenced me and our family. Cashmere is its big blind spot. I feel almost desperate when I talk to him about cashmere, the way I want him to get better at it.
Weeks ago we were arguing about the lack of internet and cellular in Kashmir. I argued that it was a tool to suppress the people there even more. He wiped me off, laughed at me, his silly Pyari beti. After that I didn't call him for a few days. My father initiated silent treatment against me many times in my life for apparently disregarding my behavior. This year was the only time in my life that I was not at all willing to speak to him, a Koul family.
I don't think he noticed.
My family is due to return to India for a wedding in March and I have asked my mother to take me to Kashmir. It feels kind of dishonest to visit the same places – Agra, Jaipur, Jammu, Delhi – and never go down to the valley. My mother has not been there since she first left, now more than 40 years ago. She was afraid of returning and refused to take me with me as a child in the event of regional unrest. She is ready to go now, but my father tries to reject the idea. His current argument is unbelievable that it will "rain". So why should he bother to take my mother to the place where she was born and raised? As if rain could wash the streets completely. As if he wasn't afraid of something darker and more shameful in the region.
Sure, we were the hunted, but now we are the hunter. We know better, but we are not better.
My parents are old as hell. Her parents are dead. My brother forgot his Kashmiri and his daughter is so detached from it that I am not sure if she even knows where it is. I feel like I'm running out of time to understand a family story that will soon turn to dust. Throughout the year, I felt that something indescribable was wrestled by me, and I want something back. But do I have the right from the start?
India and Pakistan have argued about my life and that of my parents over Kashmir. I am not arrogant enough to believe that it will be resolved in 2020. What I would really like to see is that people like me, young children of the first and second generations, recognize the legacy of a trauma if they are not affected by this conflict that we encourage. I am not asking for an answer or a definitive explanation. All I really want to end this terrible year is for my family to recognize a hard, complex and unfair fact: we may have been hunted, for sure, but now we are the hunters. We know better, but we are not better.
In the past, an Indian woman heard my last name or, when my family emigrated, said with a smile: “Oh, sure. And we would go on. But now we're talking with concern. We are all trying to find out where the other landed. The Muslim Kashmiris rightly treated me with caution. Pandits assume that we all agree. I was most disappointed by the 20 children who have no relationship with Kashmir beyond their grandparents' birthplaces. They tell what their elders tell them about Hindus and India's superiority. India – a country I have never lived in, but a place where I had to be like I was in a way that Canada or the United States could never be – has become stranger to me.
Does it mean anything to be an Indian, and to someone who is far less Indian? Does it mean anything good? Can I start calling myself Kashmiri instead so late in my life?
In my parents' house, on a long table in the living room, they have a few model shikaras, wooden river boats, that were found on Dal Lake in Srinagar. As a child, these were just toys that, for me, represented a fantasy world, like something you would see if you fell through the mirror. It was just pretending that cashmere was not real, like it was a dream my parents had, and I would never have to think about it except look at these little boats. I wasn't allowed to, but I still played with these boats – I tilted them back and forth, peeked into their windows and slid them across the table, imagining a world that was much less stressful than the one I had lived in , ●